The Barenaked Ladies garnered a number one hit with “One Week” (for one week) on October 17th, 1998, and unfortunately, that makes perfect sense. “One Week” is undeniable – not necessarily because it’s a good song, but rather because it has one of the most recognizable hookworms of the late nineties. Straight away, we as listeners are thrown headfirst into the chorus, with the preamble of “it’s been…” and before the song even really starts, you know exactly what song you’re about to listen to. That immediate recognition is part of the reason why “One Week” still gets radio play nearly twenty years later.
“One Week” wasn’t really anything special in the greater scheme of pop music in the late 90s. There were a whole lot of pop-rock hits floating around, made by a wide variety of artists – a direct result/consequence of the major record labels signing as many promising alternative bands with pop sensibilities as they could get their hands on after the success of Nirvana and the alternative movement. By the time 1998 rolled around, the alternative well wasn’t quite dry, but it was getting there. While the early and mid 90s were legendary for the amount of great alternative music coming out, the latter part of the decade was more of a wash in that there were a bunch of good, but not great alternative rock bands who could have a radio hit or two, but no one band really stood out. With that in mind, in a different world, “One Week” could’ve easily be a song by Eve 6, Fastball, Semisonic, or even Third Eye Blind. But, it just so happens that it was the band with the kookiest name and most unconventional song that just happened to have the best luck on the Hot 100.
Maybe their name is part of the reason why the Barenaked Ladies were destined for such success. Let’s walk through a typical 90’s bro back and forth:
That name, combined with that earworm, not only got the Barenaked Ladies a hit, it also got them a ton of promotion. Their songs were suddenly in high profile movies like “American Pie,” and on TV, they had an extended cameo on the show “Two Guys A Girl And A Pizza Place” starring a young Ryan Reynolds (that was a big deal back in the nineties, blink-182 also did a cameo on the show at around the same time). However, despite their sudden success, the Barenaked Ladies ended up in no man’s land of being consistently successful, but never having another mammoth hit like “One Week.” Some of their other songs like “It’s All Been Done,” “Brian Wilson,” and “If I Had $1,000,000” – all better, and more thoughtful songs – buoyed the band enough to have success in their native country of Canada throughout the 90s, and the band still retains a cult following in the US on the back of those songs today.
When I listen to “One Week,” – well, wait, that doesn’t happen, because I never go out of my way to listen to “One Week.” Honestly, I’ve heard enough of “One Week.” If I happen to catch it on the radio, or it comes up on a playlist, I’m either turning the radio station or hitting skip to go to the next song. If I never heard “One Week” again for the rest of my life, I might actually be better off for it. It unfortunately overshadows a whole bunch of better alternative pop hits by more talented bands that didn’t have the opportunity to hit #1 on the Hot 100. It’s not that I have a personal vendetta against the Barenaked Ladies. I think their story – going from odd-ball Canadian band to overnight success in the States – is inspiring, and they did an incredible job of creating a ubiquitous and pervasive mainstream pop song in their time. With its fast-talk/rapped verse lyrics that are full of obscure references (Aquaman, Leann Rimes, Harrison Ford, Sailor Moon) and it’s “slamming” chorus, (because it has that hard cymbal crash on the fourth beat in the chorus that helps the song flow), “One Week” has become a symbol of most (but not all) of the one off 90’s alternative pop hits from 1998 to 2000: catchy, but largely disposable, meaningless, and borderline annoying.